By Anthony “Corky” Carter
It is an awesome sight when you see two umpires working in tandem to make the right call on a close play when umpires correctly defer their call to a partner because they’re blocked out of the play or found themselves in a marginal position.
One play in slow pitch that often lends itself to help from your partner is when there is a runner on first and there’s a snap-back throw to first after a line drive to the pitcher, second baseman or shortstop. As the base umpire, that type of play usually occurs so quickly that you don’t have the opportunity or ability to move into position to get the proper angle as the runner is sliding or diving back into first.
Outstanding umpire teams have a pre-arranged set of mechanics to handle that difficult situation. The mechanics may be that the base umpire points to the plate umpire to make the call, verbally requests assistance, or they agree that the call at first will always be the plate umpire’s responsibility. Let’s face the fact that if the line drive is caught by the shortstop, there is no way to get an advantageous angle by moving toward the pitcher.
While it is acceptable to defer the call to the plate umpire in those three situations, many calls are often deferred to the plate umpire that were the base umpire’s responsibility. Why does that happen? A) The base umpire does not understand how to get into the proper position. B) The base umpire is too lazy to get into position. C) The base umpire doesn’t want to make the tough call. D) The base umpire wants the plate umpire to “take the heat” for the close call. E) All the above. The answer is E, although I’m being a bit facetious.
What’s happening most often is the base umpire is not positioning himself or herself in the Area of Greatest Advantage (AGA). Most of the time that occurs when there are multiple runners on base. Let’s start with the bases loaded and describe where the AGA is and its importance. When there’s a hit to the outfield with the bases loaded, it’s “off to the races” for the runners and the base umpire. The error in mechanics that most often occurs is that the base umpire doesn’t get inside the diamond far enough (or not at all) and ends up being too close to second base or outside the diamond.
During the time when a runner is advancing to the plate, if the plate umpire cannot cover third base, the base umpire has the dilemma of making the call at third, second or first base. Once the ball is cut off by the shortstop or second baseman, it’s anyone’s guess to which base it will be thrown. If the base umpire errs by staying too close to second, he or she has lost the angle at both corners. That is why it is critical for the base umpire to immediately go to the AGA in preparation to make the call at any base. When he or she doesn’t get himself to the AGA, he or she is in a very poor position to make the calls that are his or her responsibility. Additionally, if the plate umpire has moved to third, the base umpire is out of position for the call at the plate.
Where is the AGA for the base umpire? It’s the exact center of the diamond. However, I’ll settle for the base umpire getting to anywhere inside a five-foot circle around the pitcher’s plate. If you work at getting yourself to that area you’ll find yourself making more correct calls with fewer arguments and fewer deferrals to your partner.
With runners on first and third, when a fly ball is hit to the outfield, many base umpires come inside the diamond only a few feet. If the base umpire has started out close to second base, that is where he’ll position himself inside the diamond, too close to second base, thinking this is a good place to make the call at second if the runner advances after the catch. However, if a throw from the cutoff man goes to the first baseman trying to retire the runner, the base umpire’s angle is atrocious. Asking for help from the plate umpire in that situation is a “cop-out” because the plate umpire is usually down the baseline toward third base and a runner will be crossing his or her line of vision. The catcher may also get between him or her and what can be seen at first base.
The preferred mechanic for the base umpire with the bases loaded? When the ball is hit to the outfield with multiple runners on base, move inside the diamond, keep your eyes on the flight of the ball and back your way to the AGA. That position provides an excellent angle to make a call at any base. By taking a couple of steps toward the base where the play is being made, you give the appearance of being closer to the play than you actually are.